By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Things had to be absolutely perfect for Tony Tallent to leave what he had established over the last seven years as head coach of Warren County High School's football team. That opportunity has presented itself.
Tallent, who took command of and built up a depleted Warren County football program following the school's split with the introduction of nearby Skyline High School in 2007, will take the next step in his coaching career, as he was named the head football coach of newly formed Rock Ridge High School back in December.
Rock Ridge, located in Ashburn, will open its doors for the first time this fall as the 14th public high school in the Loudoun County Public School system.
"It really was the only job in the state of Virginia that I thought I would even consider leaving this area for," Tallent said on Wednesday. "I'm so proud of everything that has gone on here [at Warren County] and so proud of the kids, and love the community. I just felt like if I was going to make a move, it was going to be something that was kind of in the wheelhouse of what I'd done before, which was start a program and move forward. Obviously when you have an opportunity like we did here, to start from scratch, it's just very appealing."
Rock Ridge will be the fourth coaching stop for Tallent, who coached as an assistant at Harrisonburg High School -- his alma mater -- from 1990-2002 (and again in 2006) and as a part-time assistant at James Madison University from 2003-05 before arriving at Warren County.
During Tallent's seven seasons as head coach at Warren County, the Wildcats grew from a struggling program that won just two games in 2007 to a team that made the playoffs during each of the last four seasons. In 2013, Warren County was 8-4 and advanced to the second round of the Class 3A East Region playoffs.
Tallent, who was 43-43 in his career at Warren County, said he was drawn to the opportunity at Rock Ridge because of the challenge of growing a successful football program from scratch.
Rock Ridge will play a junior varsity schedule in its first season this fall, and the Phoenix will have no seniors on the roster this fall. Tallent said Rock Ridge will compete at the varsity level the following year and will participate in Class 3A.
"It's the challenge of overcoming obstacles," Tallent said. "Change is hard for a lot of people. I know when this school split, the change of having two new schools and stuff like that -- I found it appealing to show people that we were there for the kids. ... We wanted to make sure that we created something that people could be proud of. That's a shared goal with Rock Ridge. We want to make sure that the kids come first, and that's something that I think will be the same."
Tallent, who will also teach special education at Rock Ridge, said the school will draw students mostly from fellow Ashburn schools Briar Woods and Stone Bridge, as well as some students from John Champe in Aldie.
The three other Ashburn schools, which also include Broad Run, have had tremendous football success in recent years, which is something that Tallent said was also a big draw. Since 2005, those three schools have combined for 10 state championship game appearances and six state titles.
Briar Woods, which Tallent said is where most of Rock Ridge's student body will be drawn from, won three straight Group AA Division 4 titles from 2010-12 and was the state runner-up in Class 5A this past season.
"I think that's going to be part of the challenge, is people are used to the great success that they've had up there," Tallent said. "We're going to go up there with the attitude that we're trying to replicate and match and exceed at whatever we can. I think everybody goes in with that type of goal. It is a very strong area for youth football and I think that's definitely one of the things that makes it appealing."
Warren County athletic director Jim Grooms said the search for Tallent's replacement has been going on for several weeks, and the seven-person search committee has interviewed about 22 candidates for the position.
Grooms said of those 22 applicants, about half are current head coaches and half are assistants. Grooms added that one applicant is a current Warren County coach, and that the rest come from areas as far as the Charlottesville area and southwestern Virginia, as well as two out of state candidates from Kentucky and Ohio.
"We're looking for somebody that's going to be a good teacher, whatever position they come in at," Grooms said. "... I have 19 or 20 questions that we ask every applicant. I would say close to maybe five or six really dwell on the coaching. A lot of it is a mixture of coaching and teaching philosophy. When I looked at Tony, I knew he was a good teacher and I knew he was a good coach. That's what I look for. Coaching is just teaching, it's just that the classroom is a little different."
Grooms said he is also looking for a coach that will continue to push the program in the direction that Tallent has taken it, and he hopes to settle on a replacement in time for the Warren County School Board meeting on April 10.
"We're anxious to announce it. Everybody wants it announced," Grooms said.
Tallent is also eager to begin his new job, but he said he will always cherish the memories that he made at Warren County.
"I just see the faces of the kids, and the families. I see the memories of the faces of the families and the kids that have made this time so special," Tallent said. "I just want what's best for these kids because they'll always be in my heart. I can't thank the support of the community enough.
"I'm lucky that I got to establish myself and my family in this community, and I hope that they'll always know how much I care about them."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD